“Better is possible. It does not take genius. It takes diligence. It takes moral clarity. It takes ingenuity. And above all, it takes a willingness to try.” — Atul Gawande Better: A Surgeon’s notes on Performance
At the start of this year, did you do what many of us did? (Myself included)
We make great plans and set out an impressive agenda for the year, with key goals, important achievements and projects to undertake.
There’s a sense of optimism and renewal that comes at the start of each year.
“This year I’m going to [fill in the blanks].”
But are you like me — that so often the busyness of life interferes with your plans and hopes for a happier, healthier life? We get into a rut and run on auto-pilot.
I spoke about this recently to a lovely group of people.
One woman who came up to me after my talk said it summed up her life completely.
“I have so many important goals but I feel stuck by the day-to-day responsibilities that over-run my plans,” she said.
But what if changing your mindset was the key to changing your life?
And the key to transformation could be accepting that, yes, you can be busy but you can also make important steps towards reaching your goals and dreams.
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Dr Alia Crum, a psychologist from Stanford University, believes our mindset has a dramatic impact on our health and can even play a part in determining our wellbeing.
And she has the scientific data to prove it.
In a study by Fabrizio Benedetti, a professor of physiology and neuroscience at the University of Turin, patients were either openly given medication by a doctor or given medication through an intravenous line.
What they found in the patient’s response to treatment was remarkable and consistent, Dr Crum said.
“When patients were aware of the treatment and expected to receive a benefit, the treatment was highly effective,” she said.
In fact, patients with anxiety reported a 25 per cent improvement, while those with Parkinson’s disease and high blood pressure achieved 15 per cent improvement.
Dr Crum set up her own fascinating study to test the power of mindset, or, “the lens or the view in which we see the world,” as she calls it.
She tracked a group of female hotel housekeepers, all of whom were highly active and spent most of their time at work on their feet.
“We asked them: ‘Do you exercise regularly?’ And two thirds said ‘no’,” Dr Crum said.
She wanted to see what would happen if she could change their mindset to help them recognise they were active.
“We took measurements like weight, body fat and how satisfied they were with their jobs, then split them into two groups,” Dr Crum said.
Half were given a presentation about how their work was good exercise and detailing how many calories they were burning.
When they retook their measurements four weeks later, the women who didn’t receive the presentation hadn’t changed in weight or body fat.
But the women who had received the information dropped weight, reduced blood pressure, and dropped body fat.
“It was fascinating, that just as a result of a simple 15-minute presentation, the whole game changed, producing a cascade of effects on their health and wellbeing,” Dr Crum said.
It’s all in the mind, researchers find
A further study reinforced this effect.
University students were told they were drinking either a luxury, decadent milkshake or a fat-free diet milk shake.
In the students who thought they were drinking a decadent shake, the hormone that tells the brain you feel full increased significantly.
But for the students who were given the fat-free, diet version, their hunger satisfaction hormone increased just slightly.
But as you may have guessed, all the participants were given the same drink.
The first group believed they were getting a filling, luxury drink and felt fuller, while the diet shake group thought theirs was a slimmer drink, so they felt less full.
In other words, it was their mindset, not the reality and facts, which was key to how their bodies reacted in both studies.